Main content area

Characterizing hyena coprolites from two latrines of the Iberian Peninsula during the Early Pleistocene: Gran Dolina (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos) and La Mina (Barranc de la Boella, Tarragona)

Pineda, Antonio, Saladié, Palmira, Expósito, Isabel, Rodríguez-Hidalgo, Antonio, Cáceres, Isabel, Huguet, Rosa, Rosas, Antonio, López-Polín, Lucía, Estalrrich, Almudena, García-Tabernero, Antonio, Vallverdú, Josep
Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology 2017
Crocuta crocuta, calcium, carnivores, feces, fossils, fungi, grasses, paleoecology, phosphorus, pollen, spores, Iberian Peninsula
Coprolites are commonly identified in the Pleistocene archaeo-palaeontological record. They have often been described as indirect evidence for the presence of carnivores (usually hyenids) during the formation of a depositional sequence. However, coprolites are a much larger source of information that can provide data relating to factors affecting an archaeological assemblage, including its taphonomic history and palaeoecology. In this paper, two fossil coprolite accumulations dating to the late Early Pleistocene are described: Level TD6.1 of Gran Dolina (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos) and Unit II of La Mina (Barranc de la Boella, Tarragona). The results highlight the morphological homogeneity of these hyena coprolites, despite a considerable variation in size. The presence of microspherulites is clearly identified in all of the analysed hyena coprolites. Their composition is rich in elements characteristic of bone-origin, such as calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P). A major difference, however, differentiating the remains from these sites was a higher frequency of bone fragments in the La Mina coprolites, regarding to TD6.1. Pollen, spores, and palynomorphs are scarce in the samples from both sites, which in fact share similar ecological characteristics such as the presence of pine, wild grasses, and coprophilous fungi. Hyena coprolites are relatively easy to differentiate from those of other taxa; however, they show intra-specific similarities in their micro- and macro-morphology and composition, despite their wide size range. The species of hyenids responsible for the coprolites is not possible to identify based exclusively on the size range, and the importance of a multidisciplinary study of the latrines and the coprolites is discussed as a source of palaeoecological and taphonomic information. In this study, coprolites are analysed, compared, and attributed to a hyenid, identified as Crocuta crocuta in the case of TD6.1, but without specific attribution in the case of La Mina.